Conversations in Grief Blog: Deep Cuts
I haven’t had a haircut since 2019. It’s been over a year since I even went inside a salon, and the longer I wait, the harder it gets. The chain of events that have led me to this place of unruly hair are simple: I had trouble finding time for an appointment, and then the pandemic made getting one impossible. Salons have been taking appointments again for months. I have wanted to go, but there is a deeper issue holding me back, guilt.
Of the stages of grief, guilt is often one of the hardest. When experiencing guilt, we take responsibility for things we may or may not have had any control over. “If I had…this wouldn’t have happened,“ and other statements to that effect plague us. For many of us, the guilt we feel as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic is survivor’s guilt. We feel guilty for not getting as sick as someone else or not getting sick at all. We feel guilty for being the one who passed the virus on to someone else. We feel guilty when our loved ones are still alive while others have lost so many. We feel guilty when we’ve had so many good things happen in a year that has been so awful for so many. This feeling of guilt is more than a list of things we would do differently, or change about our loved ones’ lives, playing on repeat in our heads. It is part of the pain and feeling of powerlessness that comes with grief.
When guilt follows a loss, we may change our routines to avoid feeling guilty, because our loved ones can no longer enjoy these experiences with us. We may feel guilty that we are still alive and they are not, wondering if we could have somehow changed places with them. The death of a loved one changes our relationship with others and the world. Trying to learn to live in a world they are no longer in, can be an agonizing process riddled with feelings of guilt. This becomes especially apparent when we struggle to embrace happiness after a loss. We may feel guilty over being happy because we can’t share this new happiness with them.
If guilt is part of your grief experience it’s important to take time to listen to what your feelings are saying to you. To allow yourself to grieve even good things if they trigger your loss. It’s okay to be happy and grieve at the same time. If you are struggling with guilt as a result of the pandemic, know that it doesn’t make you a bad person if good things happen when others are suffering. I have found myself struggling with this even to the point of not offering my “good news” to others as I know so many are hurting. The problem with this line of thinking is there has been so much bad news, people may need to know there is still good happening. At the same time, we should still embrace mourning with others who are going through difficulties and loss. Part of being human is supporting one another through all that comes in life, the deep losses, and the joys.
I finally made a hair appointment, and being completely honest I am excited, but also still feel very guilty. Part of the process is letting out those emotions, and if that means having a hard cry in the stylist chair, so be it (I will warn her ahead of time). If we are to face our feelings of guilt and grief it may mean safely doing the things we are avoiding as a result of those emotions. It’s okay to be happy and it’s okay to grieve with those who can’t right now. Our ability to do both makes us human and allows us to carry on even when things get really difficult.